Charlotte Gilman introduces a setting of isolation in "The Yellow Wallpaper." Providing the reader with a predictable ending, John has his wife, the protagonist, in a state of "rest" in order to cure her. However, instead of helping his wife, he traps her within the "bars" of what he believes is the best for her by isolating her in a room without any contact to the outside world or use of imagination. Yet, the room she has been forced to stay in has a hidden past of being used for keeping other people separated from the world but were unfortunately driven to a tragic outcome. In "The Yellow Wallpaper", Gilman utilizes the setting of the story, a room with yellow wallpaper in a colonial mansion during the 1900's, to prove the effects of isolation, a catalyst for the protagonist's mental destruction, while making a statement about the oppression of women by men during that time period.
The protagonist in " The Yellow Wallpaper", John's wife, is used to show the effects of isolation. Following a popular belief during the 1900's, John, the protagonist's husband and a physician, isolates his wife in a room to prevent " the floating womb disease" and post partum depression because she "was to have perfect rest"(568). The consequence of being alone take effect on her state of mind because in an attempt to find a way out of her loneliness she begins to stare at a section of her room that has yellow wallpaper. As her only source of enjoyment, her imagination begins to convert the paper into an image that the reader can only correlate to be her self-image. Only allowed to walk around during the day when her husband John is away at work, it is during the night that she sees the wallpaper as bars in the moonlight and "the woman behind it is as plain as can be"(572). Her interaction with the fictional character born of her isolation leads to the mental destruction of the main character.
A catalyst for his wife's destruction, the setting the character has been placed in had a destined outcome since all the past inhabitants of the room had lost their mind. The yellow wallpaper was so horrible that even the shapes "commit suicide"(568). The main character slowly looses her mind because she is not able to exercise her brain because the setting she has been placed in is making her crazy. Not only is the colonial mansion away from all civilization, the room she is kept in has little light and was once used to hold other patients that followed the isolation cure. Although she is considered a round character, the protagonist becomes a failed character because she looses her battle against sanity in the end.
Making a statement against the men during the 1900's, Gilman displays that the place that John put his wife was the reason for his wife's mental destruction. Showing the oppression by men during the time period, women were not allowed to speak against their husbands because it would have been seen as wrong. Having a husband who was a physician, the protagonist believed " perhaps that (was) one reason (she did) not get well faster" (567). Through out the story, the protagonist always refers to what John has to say never following her own instinct. Gilman's tries to show to the reader that men have no right to belittle the thoughts of women because no one knows what is best for another person but the individual themselves. The fact that the protagonist's mental health could have been kept sane if John had only listened to what the protagonist thought was best for her, proves that men and women should have equal individual rights.
Through the use of setting in her story, Gilman projects her ideas and strong beliefs for the rights and treatment of women. The setting of the story and the effect it has on the main character carefully presents the reader with a statement through the realization that the methods of curing women were unfair and cruel. Gilman instills an image through out the story that helps the reader relate to the main character by sympathizing with her. The story is meant to warn readers that the use of such methods like isolation are not helping anyone but are instead making them worse by deeply harming their health.